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Review: Applixware Office 5.0 for Linux


June 13, 2000
Web posted at: 8:41 a.m. EDT (1241 GMT)

(IDG) -- Until recently, the seemingly limitless supply of free software was a perk we in the computer trade press shared with few others. Now it seems every category of software has been invaded by free software. You need productivity applications for Linux? There are free, open source alternatives like GNOME Office and KOffice. And don't forget the free closed source offering, StarOffice 5.1.

The question is, does Applixware Office 5.0 offer unique value to make it worth the price? Absolutely. But in order to fully appreciate how Applixware Office differs from the competition, you have to take the time to delve beneath the surface.

Beneath the surface


This suite is far more than it appears to be. And that's a good thing, because it appears to be quite lame. But Applixware Office usually falls short only when you evaluate it according to the competition's rules. By those rules, Applixware Office 5.0 is a feature-rich suite of applications that occasionally seems to be the victim of a brain-dead approach to usability. It often lacks the most obvious shortcuts for common operations like word counts. And don't even get me started on the clue-free user interface for the email application.

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By its own rules, however, Applixware Office 5.0 stacks up quite differently. The key to understanding the value of Applixware is to think of Applixware Office not as a suite of limited applications, but as a nearly limitless repository of features that have been preassembled into a few sample applications.

The glue that melds Applixware Office's features together into coherent applications is an object-oriented macro programming language called ELF (Extension Language Facility). The entire Applixware Office user interface has been built using the ELF macro language (see Resources for a link to learn about and download ELF).

Armed with ELF, the powerful application development tools that come with the suite, and some programming skills, you can make Applixware Office do just about anything imaginable. With a little ambition, it is a simple matter to add all the usability features that are missing. With a moderate amount of ambition, you could tailor Applixware to precisely meet the needs of your business. And with a lot of ambition, you could build entirely new applications that hardly resemble the ones you get in the box.

Don't make the mistake of regarding ELF as the equivalent of Visual Basic script in Microsoft Office. Visual Basic script is a pathetic excuse for a language that was bolted onto Office as an afterthought. Microsoft threw in a little OLE automation and ended up with a massive, unstable, difficult to maintain custom application that can barely get out of its own way.

In sharp contrast, ELF wasn't just tacked onto Applixware. Applixware Office is ELF combined with a library of productivity application functions. On the slim chance you need more features than you get with the suite, you can always add your own using another language like C or C++.

So the bottom line is this: If all you want is basic productivity applications, then what you're really paying for when you buy Applixware Office is 30 days of technical support. If you don't need the support, you can turn to a variety of free applications for the features you need. For example, if you have gobs of RAM that you don't know what to do with, you can always run the beefy StarOffice 5.1 (see Resources for a link). If you have less RAM and fewer requirements, you'll probably be satisfied with the open source products AbiWord and Gnumeric (see Resources for links to both). If your needs are much greater and you are a little patient, I strongly recommend that you look at KOffice (see Resources).

But if you want a lean, mean, powerful development environment with a repository of all the features you'd expect in an integrated productivity application suite, I know of no equal to Applixware Office at any price.

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Applixware homepage
Information and download for SHELF
Information and download for KOffice
Download Abiword
Gnumeric homepage

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